Emily the Criminal movie posterSee how Emily the Criminal hits Blake Snyder’s 15 story beats!

Written and Directed by: John Patton Ford

Genre: Institutionalized

Opening Image: Sitting in an interview, Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is asked about her permanent record. Her past has placed her in a position where others have power over her.

Aubrey Plaza's Emily being interviewed for a job
The Opening Image: Emily is put on the spot, trying to deny her past.

Theme Stated: As the interviewer listens to Emily’s false response, he tells her that he actually obtained her background check, contrary to what he first told her. She’s taken aback, wondering why he would trick her. He tells her, “If you want us to be generous with you, then you need to be generous with us and be honest.” The concept of trust, honesty, and identity are at the core of what will help Emily remove her shard of glass.

Set-Up: Emily’s life is full of things that need fixing in her thesis world. She is plagued by her aggravated assault conviction, and is stuck in a catering job as an independent contractor. She wants to find a job that will allow her to use her education as an art student. Saddled with $70,000 in student debt, she’s in a situation of stasis = death. In a Save the Cat! moment, Emily sees coworker Javier (Bernardo Badillo) on the street, who asks Emily to take his night shift so he can go to his son’s little league game. Although she’s tired, Emily agrees to help him out.

Catalyst: Thankful, Javier gives her a number to text, telling her that she can make $200 in an hour as a “dummy shopper.”

Debate: At her apartment, the stress of life only compounds for Emily. She calls her student loan company, realizing that the $400 she paid was not added to the balance but to the interest, which is adding up quickly. She spends her time sketching other people, dreaming of the artist she wants to be. Curious, she texts the number Javier gives her and learns where to meet.

That night, she meets up with her friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke), who offers to get her an interview with her boss for a graphic designer position. Unfortunately, her record haunts her, and Emily isn’t convinced she can get the job.

The next morning, she goes to the dummy shopper location and is briefed on the process. She will use stolen credit card information to purchase big-ticket items and be paid for it. She gets up to leave, asking how she can know whether the fake cards will work or not.

Youcef in the front seat of a car talks to Emily in the back seat
Youcef presents Emily with an opportunity: work for him again and earn $2,000.

Middleman Youcef (Theo Rossi) echoes the theme, telling her she doesn’t know, but must trust him. She carries out the shopping task and Youcef offers her the opportunity to do another job in which she can earn $2,000 for her efforts. He gives her a burner phone and tells her to await his call.

Break into Two: In the middle of a catering assignment, Liz calls Emily to let her know that the graphic design job has been filled. Just as Emily tosses the burner phone in the trash, she gets a text. Taking a chance, she answers it and leaves her job to meet Youcef.

B Story: Youcef will be the B Story; his dreams and aspirations for a better life will echo Emily’s and force her to confront who she truly is deep down.

Emily with her hand resting on an open car trunk
In the Fun and Games, Emily begins to run her own enterprise.

Fun and Games: Emily takes on the next assignment, buying a car. Youcef tells her that due to the large purchase, the bank will run the card, which takes eight minutes, adding pressure. She is successful in buying the car, but as she’s leaving, she’s asked to wait; the sellers are on to her. She is assaulted but escapes.

Youcef catches up with her, offering to drive her home and tend to her injuries. He shares his dream with her of buying and renovating rental properties. Meanwhile, Emily’s boss cuts some of her hours because she left without calling him, hours that she needs the money from.

Youcef teaches her how to make her own fake cards so that she can try to earn extra money on her own. He gives her a stun gun for protection. She’s fully immersed in this upside-down antithesis world now, and buys a safe for the money she makes.

Midpoint: After her successful dummy-shopping sales, Emily meets with Youcef in a false victory. The stakes are raised now as she is fully committed to this new lifestyle. As Youcef talks about how much he hates the office where they are, Emily reminds him that it’s only temporary, giving a sense of time clocks for the both of them. They don’t want to do this forever.

Emily's face on the pavement.
Emily’s new life catches up with her as the Bad Guys Close In, putting her life in jeopardy.

Bad Guys Close In: After a sale goes wrong, Emily is held at knifepoint by a couple who steal the money from her safe. Enraged, Emily grabs her stun gun and follows them to the vehicle, unwilling to be a victim. She takes control, getting her money back, threatening them.

At a party with Liz, she hides this new life from her; Liz discovers that her company has a job opening, telling Emily to interview for it. Youcef joins her at the party, and as he pretends to be her boyfriend, the fake relationship turns intimate. Youcef takes Emily to one of the units he is renovating, sharing his hopes with her before asking her to meet his mother. Emily obliges, and when Youcef’s mother asks what she does, Emily replies that she isn’t sure yet, her internal bad guys showing themselves. Youcef’s mother tells her she will know one day, whether it will be Emily the teacher, Emily the mother, or Emily “the something.”

Soon, Youcef’s cousin and business partner Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori) shows up, saying that Emily had hit the same store twice in a week, which jeopardizes their whole operation. The external bad guys are at play, as the police now have a video of her. This begins to cause strain between Youcef and Khalil. Youcef tells Emily that Khalil hasn’t paid him for five months and wants Emily’s help to rob him. Emily is hesitant, though.

She interviews with Liz’s boss, the CEO of the agency, with the hopes of landing her dream job in the art world. Although Emily is riddled with debt and has a criminal background, this interview represents the opportunity for her to escape her current situation. Unfortunately, Emily learns that the job is an unpaid internship, and she is forced to confront the reality in front of her: does she choose her idealistic career, or does she address her more immediate, primal needs?

Emily chooses the latter, and the CEO tells her she is spoiled to reject the offer, citing how she herself had difficulty breaking into the industry even as a secretary. Emily counters, stating that at least the CEO was paid when she was a secretary. Now, having given up on the life she dreamed of, Emily must turn to the only hope she has of climbing out of debt: she must remain in the crime world, and must aid Youcef in his plan to steal from Khalil.

Emily and Youcef
All Is Lost as Youcef realizes that his cousin Khalil took everything.

All Is Lost: The two attempt to rob Khalil, but soon discover that Khalil has already taken everything. Now, with no money or materials, the whiff of death of their futures and careers is present.

Dark Night of the Soul: Emily wants to confront Khalil; Youcef is afraid to, saying that he is with serious people. Emily, tired of being stepped on by others, says that she wants her cut that Youcef promised. She’s tired of not being the one in control. She knows who she is, and she needs to stop lying about who she is and be honest with herself.

Break into Three: Emily gathers supplies and the two set off to confront Khalil.

Finale: Emily and Youcef arrive at the house, and she tells Youcef about her assault conviction. Referring to her shard of glass, she says her mistake was not going far enough with the assault to truly scare her ex-boyfriend and let her know who she is and what she is capable of. The two execute the plan, gaining access to Khalil, but in a high-tower surprise, he sneaks up on them, knocking Youcef to the ground and injuring him and attacking Emily.

Digging, deep down, Emily is honest with herself about who she is and retaliates, threatening Khalil with a box cutter and scaring him until he tells her where the money is. After finding the money, she helps the injured Youcef to the car, but she can’t find his keys. In desperation and hearing police sirens, she apologizes, then takes the money and leaves Youcef behind.

Final Image: In another country, Emily speaks Spanish to a group of people sitting in front of her, instructing them on how to be dummy shoppers. As a mirror image of the Opening Image, Emily is now the one asking questions, the one in control.

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